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Eyes on Stress Levels as Charities are Squeezed

The publication Third Sector Online recently quoted a YouGov poll where it was found that more than three people in five think the role of charities will become more important over the next few years to bridge the gap caused by public spending cuts.

Not withstanding the current economic climate, 8% of respondents said that they expected to donate more money to charity in the next 12 months than they do at the moment while 12% said they would donate less.  66% said they expected their giving to remain unchanged.  A recent survey carried out by the Serverside Group found that one in seven small charities and voluntary organisations said that their membership had dropped by 20% or more over the past 18 months directly impacting on donation levels.

Research from the Charity Commission has shown that there were around 8000 fewer registered charities in the UK in December 2009 than there were the year before, mostly at the smaller end of the scale.

With corporate contributions to charities being cut, will they survive long enough to soften the blow of reduced public spending?  In addition to this the way that contracts are awarded in the voluntary sector – short term with the emphasis on cost cutting – is having a detrimental effect on the sectors 750,000 employees and the services they deliver to clients and service users.  Small local charities and voluntary organisations around the UK have felt the impact of the economic downturn and subsequent recession as keenly as any business, according to the latest research.

The union Unite which has 60,000 members in the not-for-profit sector said that its research suggested 9 out of 10 voluntary sector workers felt their wellbeing was being undermined by the financial problems facing charities.

The revolving doors contract culture seen in the charity sector can have serious adverse effects on employee’s health and wellbeing.  Please see our recent Ask the Expert question for a similar situation where the person works for an organisation facing large scale redundancies and is finding it extremely difficult to rise above the personal impact of this to carry out their day to day work.

Unite has just launched a campaign that it hopes will “eradicate” stress in the voluntary sector, the first stage of which is to survey members in order to understand the issues involved.  Unite also stated that they want to reinforce the message to employers that they have a legal obligation to manage and prevent workplace stress.

Common Stress-related issues in the Charity Sector

  • Low staff morale
  • High levels of stress and anxiety
  • Frustration at the short term nature of contracts
  • Job insecurity because of the short term nature of the funding
  • Colleagues leaving as a result of the pressure
  • Reduced and stretched services for vulnerable clients
  • Working excessive hours to meet contract demands
  • Lack of training and development opportunities
  • Concern for the wellbeing of service users

Government Response

Rachael Maskell, Unite’s national officer has recently said:
“We are at a crossroads and Unite wants to work with government and voluntary sector managements to plan for five to ten years ahead to bring stability for staff and services.  We must end this ‘think only for tomorrow culture.’

So, how has the new government responded so far?

Newly appointed Nick Hurd is the minister responsible for charities, social enterprises and voluntary organisations in the Cabinet Office otherwise known as the minister for Civil Society.

He has announced that Government policy will focus on three fundamental issues:

  • Making it easier to run a charity, social enterprise or voluntary organisation
  • Getting more resources into the sector, strengthening its independence and resilience
  • Making it easier for sector organisations to work with the state

Announced in a letter to voluntary organisations before the election campaign Nick Hurd said that the new office for Civil Society will “act as a champion of the voluntary sector in the heart of government” the letter goes on to promise longer-term contracts for voluntary and community groups “based on outcomes, not the micromanagement of the process” and says that smaller charities will be encouraged to help the government tackle social problems.

Stuart Etherington, Chief Executive, National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said:
“The Government has put the Big Society at the forefront of the political agenda – and with it the crucial role that civil society plays in helping to achieve a better and fairer society.

“Many may mock this new term – civil society.  But it has real value.  Civil society is driven by people themselves, by their concerns and their passions. It is where people come together to make a positive difference to their lives, and the lives of others.  It provides an important counterbalance to the power of the state and the power of the market.  It gives a positive definition of the role of charities and voluntary and community organisations, rather than defining us in relation to others, or by what we are not.

“If we are to achieve the good society then we need all three sectors – state, market and civil society – to work together.  We look forward to working with the new Government as they pursue this exciting agenda.  We look to Nick Hurd, the new Minister for Civil Society, to ensure that civil society organisations can play their full part.”

Organisations like the NCVO have to hope for a good working relationship with the government in the current economic climate.  Let’s just hope that Unite’s survey does the trick and that whatever happens in terms of funding, employers in the third sector keep a focus on the health and wellbeing of employees and managing and preventing workplace stress.

Related Links

In Equilibrium and the Charity Sector
In Equilibrium is experienced in working towards improving health, well-being and resilience of employees at all levels of organisations in the third sector.

Please contact us for further information, we will be delighted to provide references for work we have carried out.


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